There has been a lot of fuss about viewing problems in the poshest areas of the course at Ascot, but what many commentators have failed to mention – or perhaps notice – is that the Royal meeting , for all the trappings of finery, is a surprisingly democratic race night. There is no question that if you want to go the whole hog, with a table in the new grandstand, a hired morning coat and a new hat for the missus, plus all the champagne you can guzzle, you can spend the thick end of £5000 and still not see much more than the back of someone’s top hat. However, not far away from the land of silk and money exists another race night, with its own codes and traditions, that is every bit as much fun and a whole lot more relaxed. Basic entry to the smart bit costs more than £50, but for just £15 you can enter the adjacent Silver Ring and experience all the fun of a marvellous race night for a fraction of the toffs’ expenditure. Remember, you will be watching the same horses. A small percentage of the crowd here are standard race night punters, in t-shirts and jeans and clutching battered copies of the Racing Post. On any other day they might be at Redcar, or Ripon, but here they are watching a better class of racing. Most of the Silver Ring crowd, however, have made a sartorial effort. The ladies are immaculate in party frocks and little silly hats, while their consorts wear shiny business suits. The rules of the dress code are subtle: high heels must be worn to walk through the gates of the race night, ties should also be at full mast. Thereafter, the heels are discarded revealing an astonishing array of ankle tattoos, and the ties are lowered, along with inhibitions.
Competition is fierce for the plastic tables next to the three-furlong pole. Barefoot ladies scatter to collect the right number of chairs before the race night begins, while others lay out dips and crisps, and the loudest and gaudiest member of each group yells and semaphores to gather any stragglers. These base camps have to be established before 2pm and the processional arrival of The Queen. Support for the monarchy is gratifyingly widespread: everyone clambers on to a table or chair for a good view, digital camera in hand, as the first carriage trundles into view. ‘Look, there she is! There’s Queenie! Aw, don’t she look lovely in pink?’ ‘That’s never pink. That’s cerise, that is.’ ‘Whatever. Ooo look, there’s Kate. Good on you girl!’
Loyal duties done, it is time for the race night to begin. Many of the ladies are drawn to the shade of the food marquee, where a competent rock band are bashing out covers of Eighties hits. A large group of ladies dance in front of the stage, waving their hats. It looks like the aftermath of a rather successful wedding. Many of my friends are race night experts, and they always insist that we study the horses for each race in the saddling enclosure before they go into the parade ring. At the race night in Ascot this seems to mean walking to Bagshot. Well, it certainly feels that far by the fifth race! Trying to get there from one of the private lunching boxes and back again in time to watch a race is an exercise that has to be tackled like a cross-country obstacle course. Unfortunately, the green velvet-coated stewards never allow me to take a short cut across the lawn in front of the Royal Box.Two favourites fly home in the first races, and now most are betting – and drinking – with the enemy’s money. For those who wish to watch the race night, there are plenty of unreserved seats in temporary grandstands next to the two-furlong marker, a fair way from the finishing line, but the big screens mean that you don’t miss the race night. And there are no top hats to obscure your view. Later in the day, men join the dancing and things become more intimate. Sun, booze, sociability, great racing. The Silver Ring is just like the Royal Enclosure, really. Only with a lot for snogging.